Blah Blah Blah: Bill Nighy backs Leeds theatre company

Blah Blah Blah, theatre company's  Xmas play, Ho Ho Ho, at Leeds Met University.'From left, Sarah Westasway plays Mother Christmas and Anthony Haddon plays Father Christmas.
Blah Blah Blah, theatre company's Xmas play, Ho Ho Ho, at Leeds Met University.'From left, Sarah Westasway plays Mother Christmas and Anthony Haddon plays Father Christmas.
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Leeds-based theatre company Blah Blah Blah has just won a big name backer. Neil Hudson reports

ACTOR Bill Nighy is best known for making hit British films and starring in Hollywood blockbusters but he’s now thrown his weight behind a Leeds theatre company in their 30th year.

Leeds-based theatre company Blah Blah Blah has pulled off a real coup by managing to attract the acting icon as its patron.

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The company, which has its base on Roundhay Road, Harehills, works mainly with schoolchildren, with actors going into schools but more recently it has been branching out, with one production, Bags (about homelessness) recently shown at Leeds Carrigeworks Theatre and another, Rummage (about the magic of everyday objects we all throw away), on tour at the moment.

Explaining why he had chosen to lend his name to Blah Blah Blah, Bill said: “Theatre in education allows children to express ideas and themselves in a way that nothing else will. I’ve worked for and with children of all ages and I’ve seen how it can reach them. It also offers a unparalleled opportunity for them to connect, rely upon and look out for one another and examine minutely language and human behaviour. It can also be, for the record, enormous fun and a crash course in humility. The blahs are an exemplary example of how successful it can be. I’m proud to have been invited to associate myself with such an important company.”

Simon Kerrigan from the Blah blah blah Theatre Company, with children from Elmete Wood School involved with the Leeds 2000 lines project, (l-r) James Brennan, 13, Emma Lamb, 12, James Ford, 12, and Ryan Abbott, 11.'PICTURE BRUCE ROLLINSON **EDI**

Simon Kerrigan from the Blah blah blah Theatre Company, with children from Elmete Wood School involved with the Leeds 2000 lines project, (l-r) James Brennan, 13, Emma Lamb, 12, James Ford, 12, and Ryan Abbott, 11.'PICTURE BRUCE ROLLINSON **EDI**

BAFTA and Golden Globe winning actor Bill has just finished a Broadway run of the critically acclaimed play Skylight. Though he is well known for his many film and television roles including washed-up rocker Billy Mack in Love Actually, his career began with theatre performances that dared the audience to challenge society’s norms. His love of theatre as a transformative space is clear from the incredible breadth of roles he has tackled since the 1970s.

Deborah Pakkar-Hull, Artistic Director of Theatre Co Blah Blah Blah, said Bill brought much wisdom and experience to the Leeds-based theatre in education (TIE) company, who specialise in dynamic participatory theatre and drama experiences for children and young people.

“We are genuinely thrilled to have the support of an actor of Bill Nighy’s calibre as a patron. It is great to know that Bill is passionate about children and young people having the opportunity to creatively explore the world around them through stories and having a safe place to express themselves. This is at the heart of the Blah’s ethos and is of real importance, as theatre, and the arts in general, are increasingly being marginalised in schools.”

Bill joins the Blahs existing patron, internationally acclaimed playwright Mike Kenny at a really exciting point in the company’s journey. This year as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations Mike has re-imagined his play Bag Dancing for a contemporary audience and it has just finished a very successful UK tour.

Also he will be writing Partition, a new work based on the partition of India and Pakistan that will form the heart of a large-scale international collaboration.

Set up in 1985, Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah is a leading ‘theatre in education’ Company based in Leeds. It creates high quality participatory theatre with and for children and young people, using compelling stories to stimulate enquiry and exploration.

The news comes at a time when the arts in education is facing a difficult time, with recent years marking a decline in the level of arts activity in schools. A spokeswoman from the Blahs said: “Bill’s patronage of The Blahs presents not simply the opportunity to raise the profile of the company and the exciting projects it is involved in but also a chance to engage in wider conversation about the value of the arts in education and how theatre can positively impact children’s learning and sense of self.

In the past, actors from the company have explored themes such as the Gunpowder Plot, an imagined sequel to Hansel and Gretel, seeing them in their teenage

years trying to live with their experiences with the witch and dramatised a world where a teenage girl runs wild after being turned into a dog, who then faces rejection from her family.

Ultimately, the work helps young people to understand relationships and their surroundings by forcing them to question the nature of and explore certain social constructs.

Jane Langley, headteacher of Alwoodley Primary School, said: “I am so grateful for the contribution Blahs have made to literacy standards and children’s emotional well-being in our school. The examples of impact are continually evident throughout school. Teachers say that it is the best inset they have ever had. I am looking forwards to continuing working with Blahs every year, developing our exciting plans together.”

The theatre’s current production: Rummage! is an exciting new one-person participatory performance for ages five to eight.

The children are invited to step into the fictional world to watch and take part in rich story-making opportunities, puppetry and play to explore the imaginative possibilities of the everyday objects we throw away, reflect upon ethical questions relating to waste and consumerism.

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